Steli Efti is the co-founder and CEO of Close.io. He’s Silicon Valley’s most prominent sales hustler, a YC alumni, advisor to several startups and entrepreneurs and the author of The Ultimate Startup Guide To Outbound Sales.
Steli shares some of the tips and tricks he has learned as one of the best sales hustlers and hackers in the software business. No dark arts, no magic bullets, just solid advice, proven processes and plans that will be applicable to anyone, from single developer, through to a large established sales organisation. Having worked with some of the most successful startups to come out of the incubators such as Y-Combinator, as well as established public software businesses, Steli has a unique view of what you can do to close sales and why sales should not just be left to sales people.
Slides of Steli’s talk at BoS Conference Europe 2016 here
Learn how great companies are run
At BoS we run events and publish content that is highly valued by anyone trying to build, run, and scale a great software company.
Sign up for a regular dose of actionable and useful content:
- Appreciation is the currency you pay the universe with.
- Elastic – Helped 200+ venture backed startups in Silicon Valley scale sales
- Sales team on demand
- Close.io – Started as an internal solution for Elastic that grew like crazy.
- Elastic – Helped 200+ venture backed startups in Silicon Valley scale sales
- “Running a software business would be great if you didn’t have to deal with customers” –Group of anonymous BoS attendees
- Business is not that complicated… people are.
- NOT SOFTWARE Business… Software BUSINESS
- Before you have customers… you aren’t really in business
- “Why don’t you do the thing you know you need to do… and that I’m going to tell you to do?”
- “I’m afraid I won’t be able to deliver what I say I am going to”
- We all have this bad habit of anticipating future problems to keep us in our comfort zone of NOT DOING ANYTHING.
- Talk to HUMANS… YOU WILL ALWAYS LEARN!!
- Yes or No are GOOD. Maybe is where you go to DIE.
- Sales is about making things move in the universe… nothing else.
- I”m not a salesperson … is NOT a valid excuse for not selling!”
- If you want a business… sales MUST be your thing.
- If you don’t want to be a salesperson, don’t go into business!
- Salespeople are NOT born… they are MADE.
- No one grows up wanting to be a salesperson.
- Some people have have a greater predisposition, but that will not make them great.
- @patio11 FTW
- Take action! Do It! Now! What are you waiting on!
- Old Framework: Wolf of Lamb?
- unfriendly strength | unfriendly weakness | friendly weakness | friendly strength
- unfriendly strength is the typical hard charger sales guy we think of… WE HATE!
- This works less and less in an open, social world.
- friendly weakness
- These people are usually taken advantage of.
- friendly strength
- This is how you sell if you want to be successful.
- This helps you connect with people, lead, build, and grow relationships.
- THE POWER OF NOW… don’t push anything off onto to-do lists.
- The worst meetings are the ones where I have more to do than when i got into it.
- Be the expert that helps them act right now… tell them… don’t endlessly and nicely ask and ask ask ask. You have knowledge and power to hepl them.
- You can NOT sell if you are NOT sold.
- “It’s too expensive” … when is the last time you bought something expensive… if you haven’t then you likely can’t sell “expensive”.
- Usually, the objections you struggle the most with are the ones with which you most agree.
- You need to sell yourself before you can sell others. This is why founders can be the best salespeople… because they are most sold on the vision.
- What is it going to take to get this deal done?
- This is a very very very powerful question. it helps you develop realistic expectations for how to make this happen
- Follow up RELENTLESSLY until you get a result YES or NO
- … MAYBE does not count.
- This is where everyone else will drop the ball.
- We don’t do this because we are insecure and feel rejected.
Learn how great companies are run
At BoS we run events and publish content that is highly valued by anyone trying to build, run, and scale a great software company.
Sign up for a regular dose of actionable and useful content:
Steli Efti: Well Rory’s talk was brilliant and he’s so right with the delay thing, that whole thing about not showing delay but by how many minutes and actually it also goes for speakers when you get the next speaker. I really needed to pee and was like I’m gonna be on in 5 minutes, in 10 minutes. Should I go or not go? Probably this is the last line and it was so brilliant that I almost forgot about peeing, just almost! So it would have been 30 minutes being relaxed, going out for pee, drink a cup of tea and come back so uncertainty – the difference between it and fear and excitement and all these emotions is context. So I will use what I feel inside to get more pumped up.
First and foremost who here has no clue who I am? Raise your hands, be proud! Should be most of you! This is what I need to be motivated. Secondly who of you are in sales? Should be almost nobody? Cool! So what I’m gonna talk about today is how to sell if you’re not a sales person but this applies to how to sell if you’re not a natural sales person, an engineer or if you’re not into sales or don’t have a sales team? It’s more a philosophic idea more than anybody else.
Mark is right, I am known for cursing at keynote speeches. I arrive at the conferences and people come and shake my hand and ask me are you gonna curse today? Like it’s something special, and last year for the first time in my life I was on the stage without cursing. I got through my keynote speech at software in Boston so now we’re gonna see if I’m gonna get to the second milestone in giving a second speech in my life without cursing and this is software in Dublin. Alright, so let’s rock and roll!
Appreciation is the currency you pay the universe with
Before I start, I truly believe that appreciation is the currency you pay the universe with. So when I say thank you to all of you for showing up, thanks to Mark and the amazing team to inviting me to speak here, for making this happen. But on a more personal note, this conference is so awesome because of many reasons! Notably the people it brings together but also just the different vibe it has, it’s much warmer and less fluff, not to use the other word, that you find on some other business conferences and a lot more family friendly. Last year in Boston one of my favourite things was there was a family with a baby at the entire conference. The baby got on stage and got an applause and was laughing and he was enjoying the conference so much. So this is a very family friendly affair and one thing I like and I try to do every year is to do – and we like to come together for a weekend once a year and go on a trip and have quality time and invest in our relationship and this year with the help of Mark and the conference, the few of us got some time to spend in Ireland. This is my oldest and second oldest brother and this is us exploring Ireland. It’s really fresh air and a beautiful country, first time here. Again, thanks Mark and business software! It was an amazing weekend we got to spend together because you made it happen so I really appreciate that. So I really feel indebted to make something happen and create some value in return.
Since most of you have no idea who I am I will give you a bit of context. First, I am Greek but I grew up in Germany which usually makes me say in the US that I have the best that Europe has to offer [clapping]. Thank you one person. Another way to think about this is I have the 2 most opposite spectrums of the European culture united in one human. I’ve a career as a serial entrepreneur, another way of saying that is that I’m completely unemployable and zero credentials, nobody could hire me and when people ask me Stelli, why did you decide to become a serial entrepreneur? I say lack of options [laughter].
Really, it was not that much more that I could do. I dropped out of school at 17-18, I did a few businesses, nothing to do with technology and software, here in Europe and Germany and 10 years ago I sold everything I had, bought one ticket to San Francisco to go to Silicon Valley and chase the software, world-changing, unicorn-building dream of building a much bigger business. It was a failure, but I got to stick around and for the past 10 years I’ve been living in Silicon Valley, near San Francisco.
So the two businesses that are more relevant for what I’m about to talk about today is my previous business and the business I’m currently running.
So previously we had a company that was called Elastic sales and what we did with it was very simple, we helped venture backed start-ups in Silicon Valley to sell more and we offered them a sales team on-demand. With this massive room and office subleased from Google, we were on the Google campus and there was a huge amount of sales people who were doing sales for hundreds of B2B start-ups. We were developing sales models, figuring things out, hiring people for them and scaling things for them and for a while we were the best kept secret in Silicon Valley, we knew every CEO and we knew what worked, what didn’t worked, who struggled, why they struggled, we looked at everyone’s CRM and data to see if they could work with us or not so we accumulated an insane amount of knowledge when it comes to developing new sales models for technology companies and software businesses and then scaling them. And from day one, we developed internal piece of software not because we wanted to sell that, but because of circumstances.
I had 2 co-founders that were developers and I personally hated the sales software that was available in the market so those 2 things combined made us go you know what? Let’s just build software that’s gonna allow us to scale the services business and allow us to empower the productivity of our sales people and also will allow me to not commit suicide because I have to use nine hours a day piece of software that I really hate. That’s how we got to do that and after a year of developing the software and the scaling business, the software started to become good. We started to get a point of view of what we thought good sales software was and what it wasn’t and you know, there were many many factors that came together and accumulated into making the decision to release a software as a separate product that people could buy. And we did that, I knew we had something special but the CRM space is the most crowded space in software really.
There’s nothing inside myself that was craving to go after that market, a lot of times people asked me Stelli, how did you guys decide to go into the CRM market with a product called Close.io? and I said – I always say the same thing, nothing. How did you strategically decide to go into the CRM space? With no strategy, really! If you’d told me 5 years ago I would run a CRM company I would have punched you in the face because there was no desire for me to go into that market and we developed something for ourselves, it seemed to be something special and we said you know what? We are this big business, let’s just take a small team, we’ll release the software and just see what happens and what happened was that we hit a nerve and that software started to grow really fast, much faster than I thought it would and then 9 to 12 months it was a much bigger business than the services business, although it was a lot less humans as a call centre attached to it. So within 12 months we decided to shut down the services business and fully focus on the software business and today that’s what we do.
Close.io is one of the fastest CRM programs in the world, it’s highly profitable which I don’t know how many CRM’s in the world are, even the big ones, we made millions in revenue and we are the tiniest team in the space. Just to give you some context, we are 16 people today. We started the year being 10 but we’re 16 people today, our smallest nearest competitor is 160 people and they have very similar revenue to us.
All right, so we today have start-ups and software companies and many others around the world, thousands of companies using our software to increase their sales. So I have a really soft spot for entrepreneurs that those are my people and have a soft spot for using the super power of selling and hustling to make things happen in the universe and create value and that’s why I care about these topics and people invite me to talk about that.
I don’t just launch services and software companies; I also launch beautiful baby boys. They are my two sons. I didn’t really launch them, [laughter] my wife was really more a technical co-founder in this scenario of the software developer and I was more support in whatever, business development, personal assistant, but those are my two boys there, they are actually a little confusion infusion machines because they have very long Greek names, American passports and they look like Swedish children. So it’s very hard to figure them out and I love them very much and I miss them and that’s why I put them in my slides.
Business is simple. Humans are complicated.
All right, so last year in Boston, I overheard a conversation that really in the essence it’s all I’m trying to kill in the world which is there were a bunch of people at the bar talking about running a software business and they were like ‘running a software company would be so much fun! It’s so much easier if it wasn’t for customers!’ And this is very true for everything in life, life will be so much easier if we didn’t have to deal with humans. And there’s this quote that business is really simple. It’s humans that are complicated and I truly believe that’s true. Business itself is not that complicated, it’s us and our emotions and rationalities that are brilliantly presented before me that make things tough when we act irrationally and it’s very challenging for us to deal with the situation and know what to do next and even when we know what to do, to actually do it.
So one of the things I love about this conference is the name of it, it’s the business of software conference. A lot of people think they’re in the software business instead of thinking that they’re in the – software business. I haven’t practiced this again. No I’m just joking! So that actually is a really tough thing to internalise when you’re really somebody that loves writing software, if you’re somebody that loves cooking, that loves the art of the creation, the whatever it is that you’re involved with in terms of service and your product, sometimes it’s easy to forget that once you get into business, then your number one priority is realising revenue making, money generating profits to have legitimacy in running a business. It’s not – many people don’t realise it’s not just running a restaurant, it’s a restaurant business, and the same thing applies in software. You need to understand how to run a business and you need to focus on the business side of things, not just on the software side of things.
So I run a part guest twice a week, this gentleman should be more famous than I am. Who knows this? Raise your hand! Good! I will tell him he’s slightly more popular than me, this is Headen Shah. He’s a brilliant SAS founder, a multibillion dollar companies, he’s really wise and good looking and we have a bi-weekly podcasts, released on Tuesdays and Fridays when we talk about anything and everything related to starting a business. He is usually technical and how to build their landing page and create a sales email but Fridays is whatever the hell we want to talk about so usually we talk about things that are really out there like how the death of our parents affected us as entrepreneurs or religion in business. We talk about anything and everything, we’ve never heard anybody else talk about and we’re mutually interested and curious about each other’s point of views.
So there’s a lot of people although they’re not in this room, that are listening to that podcast and one thing that I’ve started recently is that I travel quite a bit, I speak at many different countries and instead of from the airport to the hotel and from the hotel back to the airport instead of grabbing a cab on Uber, what I do now is I just tweet to the listeners of the chat and go who is in this city that’d love to pick me up and we can talk for 20-30 minutes and we can do a session that way? Funny enough, I haven’t found a place where there’s not at least one listener – this is the reach of my fame is about one person per city that I travel to and that’s all it really takes and these people are amazing.
This is Clive and this is the awesome Irish man that picked me up from the airport to drive me to this hotel and not just that he picked me up, he picked me up at 2 am in the morning because I’m not kidding you, there was a 4 hour delay at Frankfurt. Yeah – I spent a good amount of time in Frankfurt wondering how much longer this delay would take. And I was tweeting him desperately seriously I can just get a cab, let’s just cancel this thing. And he would tweet me back dude, I got my car for you, I have nothing better to do, don’t worry about it! I got your back! And like an hour later it’s another hour delay please let’s just have a skype call. Don’t pick me up! And he even – didn’t want to negotiate with me so he picked me up and this is him dropping me off but on the ride here for 30 minutes something happened that happens quite a lot to me and it’s a heartbreak and I’m trying to figure out how to fix this and if I can help just one person fix this in this room, we’ve made the world a better place.
He is somebody that’s just about to get into business. Technically he’s started already and is incorporated but he doesn’t have customers and before you have customers I don’t consider you being in business, that’s the way I think about this. So we’re in his car, we’re driving and here’s this great Irish energy and I was so tired but hearing his accent and energy and I got all riled up and excited and we were having a good laugh and he tells me about his plan, his product idea, he put together the website, created the blog and has a twitter handle, he’s put together business plans, he talked to his parents about this, he’s done all the little things and talked to suppliers and he’s almost ready with the product or service that he wants to offer. And he has no customers and has never talked to anybody to pitch them would you actually buy this? And what he wants to sell he needs to sell to restaurants and hotels. So he could just drive by a few restaurants and go hey, if this thing exists, would you purchase it? Before spending all this time putting together the perfect logo on his twitter handle, right? And since he’s listening to my podcast twice a week with 20 minutes for the past 2 months, he knows what I’m about to say.
So he tells me his plans and then he says Stelli, before you speak you probably are gonna tell me I should go and just sell this thing before I even finish it. And I go ok, yeah. He’s like say it! I’m like well you already know. He said but say it! That’s why I picked you up! I need a kick in the butt! See how I did that? So please! For god’s sake, sell it! You know what to do! You have – what are we doing here? I mean I appreciate the ride, it’s 2:30 AM and I wouldn’t want to take the bus right now but still, why don’t you do the thing you know I will tell you to do and you agree you should do – he said well, I have a few reasons. Number 1, Stelli, the product or service is not fully finished so what if I go and I sell this and then something happens and I figured out that I can’t do it quite the way I promised, that would be a shame. And I go, well then you just give the money back. Just go to people and tell them hey, we’re about to launch this. If you think you’re gonna be ready in 1 month, tell them it’s launching in 2 months, you will be amongst the first group of 10 restaurants to get access to this, you will get a lifetime discount of 50% as an appreciation and will have an influence on how we will evolve and improve the service, I want you to put down a deposit it’s fully refundable and it’s 60 days and you don’t spend that money! That is the exact same consequences at giving it to them for free, but it’s much stronger validation if you can get one person to say yes, here’s $500. I want this! That is much more of a signal that you should invest your life savings and your time into this than just have some people say once you launch it will come back or even worse not have anybody say anything and you just are making up stories in your mind.
He’s like yeah, that would eliminate the risk of me fooling people which he doesn’t want to do but what – I’m not certain about the pricing either, what if I go and tell people you know a bunch of restaurant owners this is the price and then I decide it was a terrible mistake and I want to change the price? I don’t wanna ruin my name in Ireland. I’m like yes, oh really? Because usually this is what happens. When you go into that restaurant, where every day there’s 7 different people coming in to sell something and you tell them a price, after you leave they call the Irish association of restaurant owners, they all have an anonymous meeting that puts your face on a screen and they talk about the pricing and if anything changes in the future, they meet again to make sure that your name will forever be ruined in Ireland and everywhere in Europe. Dude, the moment you walked out of there, they forgotten your existence. What kind of rationality is that – your name is not gonna be ruined! If you promise somebody a price and you want to increase it, just tell them they were so smart and skilled negotiators they will keep that low price forever. If somebody else figures out that somebody got a little price you tell them that’s what you get in return for acting faster than when I got to you or give them the discount.
People are – we all have this bad habit of anticipating future problems to comfortably keep up within our comfort zone of not doing anything because any time of action has the potential for some kind of a risk in the future. And he came up with more reasons, but what if this happened or that happened and I was like eventually oh man, ok! I’m like all right, tomorrow are you going to a few restaurants and pitching them and ask them for the money? He’s like well, well, I don’t know about that. I’m like ok, are you and instead of fighting him here’s what I did but don’t tell him about this. He agreed to drive me back to the airport. I gave him the wrong time. It’s about 2 hours earlier than I need to be at the airport so if he picks me up and hasn’t gone to a restaurant, we will drive to a restaurant together [clapping and laughter]. We will walk in, and we will ask somebody for money. And then we will learn – sometimes you get money, most of the times you don’t. But you always learn this is one of the beauties of sales, doesn’t matter how you feel about it if the guy sells it the ugly people doing it and this is the devil and evil. We’ll talk about that a bit. And no matter what your association, your emotional baggage is around the word sales, one of the beauties of it is that it creates moments of truth and where you’re in business, you’re in the business of truth, in my mind yes is good, no is good, maybe is where you and your business is going to die, it’s when you meet with people and you present your idea and solution and they say very interesting and you say great! And you leave that meeting and you go to your team and say they loved it! When are they gonna buy? Soon! Ok, I think by Friday. And then on Friday you check your email every 5 minutes as if you’re like a little teenager, awaiting and reply to do you love me? Yes, no, maybe? Right? You love whatever oh I need to Snapchat you people but I will do this later.
So – and then Friday comes and goes and you still hadn’t done anything and the next week and constantly people tell you have you heard from this corporation that’s gonna buy us? I don’t know what’s happening with him the economy downturn, there is stress. It’s raining and it might, I need an umbrella and couldn’t get back to me. You’re making up these stories and now you’re in maybe land, in fantasy land, in this comfortable zone where you imagine surely this is gonna work out but you have not had the guts to make it so. If you ask somebody hey, are you guys ready to buy? And they say no, that’s perfect! Beautiful! Thank you for being honest! It actually takes courage to say no and be honest, to ask somebody to be honest. No? cool! What is missing? What do we need to do to go from no to yes? Is there something? Why no? Now you can learn and you either learn or you make money. Both things are valuable to you as a business but it’s when you’re not going there and asking for the cause and creating a moment of truth, you go an have an hour meeting, you go back home and you learned nothing, all you’re trying to do is hold on to the illusion that something might happen by itself. I said one of my favourite talks is nothing in the universe happens until something moves. To me sales is about making things move in the universe, nothing else.
All right, I know that people like to say to me Stelli, I’m not really a sales person. Here’s another thing I hear often. Stelli, I’m an engineer, this guy is an engineer by trade. I’m like I’m really an engineer, sales is not my thing. I’m like you want a business right? Yeah. Well sales better become your thing soon! If you want to be an engineer, keep working! He was like I don’t want to work for the man anymore. I’m like if you don’t wanna do that, you’re now a sales person! Congratulations! That’s just easy. You don’t wanna be a sales person? It’s cool with me, go back with the man or the woman. So not my decision but if you go into business, you’re not into the blabla business, you’re into business and then whatever the services that you’re delivering in. Say you’re not a sales and background or I’m really in PR not really in sales. What? I’m an engineer, I’m really not in sales. What? I am helping the team with business development related things but not really sales. We all are kidding ourselves and are in sales in one way or another. To me, sales it’s just result driver communication, when we’re just chatting with no purpose to it we’re talking. When we’re chatting and there’s some purpose, direction and we want to accomplish in my world we’re selling either I sell you or you sell me and my ideas are bad but if there’s a result we’re trying to move towards to a way from we’re selling to each other in that moment.
Sales people are not born. They are made.
And a lot of people ask me Stelli, sales people are made or born? Especially when they meet me, because I’m Greek. They’re like I’m not like that, you don’t have to. You honestly don’t have to be like me to be good in sales. I didn’t want to be good in sales, they called me a sales guru in Silicon Valley, it took me many years to start accepting that title. It’s not like I was so proud of it, I’m more than just a sales guy. Nobody grows up wanting to be a sales person. Nobody! Me neither! Nobody – not a single child on this planet is growing up wishing to become a sales person, nobody! So sales people aren’t born, they are made. They are some people that have some more natural talents, they like people. That helps. They are good communicators, that helps. They have a high tolerance for rejection and humiliation and emotional pain, that helps. But you still to become truly good at sales you have to learn practice and work really, really hard.
So I will give you a few examples of not natural and not born sales people that are killing it in sales! Just to kill all the excuses in the room. I introduce you to Patrick McKenzie, Patio11. Who knows him here? Slightly more but I’m actually not doing that bad comparing myself with those amazing humans. So Patio11 if you don’t know him, he has spoken at business software conference before, he’s an amazing human being, really giving and brilliant and he’s a developer and engineer by trade, lives in Japan and if you meet Patrick at any time – I used to run into him in conferences all the time, whenever you run into Patrick, he looks like you just woke him up from his bed and just comes up and the hair is all messy and the clothes are as if he slept in them, he’s just watching the room, slightly dazed. I love him, he’s a genius but he looks as opposite as a sales person as you can be, there’s no suit, there’s nothing about him that tells you this is somebody that’s good at selling. But he is a master in sales and he’s learned the craftsmanship of sales once he realized that he wants to be in business. He was if I want to be in business I need to understand that I can’t I can’t understand just product, but distribution as well and that breaks down to marketing and sales. So I need to become good at marketing and sales so he started studying marketing and sales and he’s gotten very dangerous in those things.
I will give you 2 examples, so he once in a while we tweet or whenever he negotiates with us, he says something funny about sales he emails me and tell me about it and we’ll go back and forth and we admire each other. And this is one of my favourite tweets, “I just summoned my inner Steli and followed-up on a quote that I last pinged in December, because emails that never get sent close no deals.” I love that quote, this is true for anything in life. Cause don’t close the deals, handshakes that aren’t made don’t close those deals and you’re not going to the event, will not close any deal and will not make anything happen in your life or anybody else’s life. You need to take action, doesn’t matter if you’re comfortable with it or not. And Patrick started doing things that seemed very unnatural to him and he sees results so he just goes like a trained engineer. If it works, let me do more of it!
So last year in business and software conference, at the dinner speaker event, Patrick comes to me and he tells me an amazing story. He says Stelli, 4 months ago I was in Silicon Valley and I was meeting with a bunch of very influential CEO’s and actually I died to tell you guys who he met with because that is a person that I know and you all know it’s a very famous CEO, brilliant company and I want to tell you a few more hints so you can put it together but I won’t because I have integrity [laughter]. So he meets with this billionaire, amazing human being, not just rich, founder of a really great company and he pitches him on his new business and he’s like I tell him all about the business and I get his feedback and then at the end of the coffee meeting I tell him Patrick, do you know Stelli Efti? And Patrick says yes. So I tell him well Patrick, if you know Stelli Efti, you know that if he sat next to me right now, he would not allow me to finish this coffee meeting without asking you if you will buy my service. And Patrick looked at him and went that’s so weird of you to say, it’s so unlike you! And Patio11 is that’s why I said if Stelli Efti was here – this is what he would say [laughter] not me. So what’s your answer? And the very famous people looked at him and ok. I guess we’re buying! I loved that story, that’s such an amazing story! So if any one of you is I’m not like Stelli, you don’t have to, just have to imagine me sitting next to you and even if people don’t know who I am you say there’s this guy named Stelli, he’s very famous, don’t worry about it and if he’s sitting here and he would say this what would you tell him back? I mean you can’t deliver this line more brilliantly than Patio11 and there’s nothing like I would deliver these lines but still dangerously effective and it got him a very big customer.
So I will give you another example. This gentleman, I looked at Facebook for pictures, I don’t know. It was a ton of wedding pictures and then this so this is what I leave you with. This is Kevin Boom Boom Romani. He is the head of sales at Close.io. Let me tell you a thing or two about Kevin and he’s very much like I’m American and look at the gun and the rest of me with my pink shirt. Very manly type of a picture. Kevin’s background is in electrical engineering and Kevin actually worked at NASA for 3 years and he actually worked at the NASA Mars Rover landing. He really did! So often times I say sales isn’t rocket science but just in case, we got us one. Just in case.
Kevin was as unnatural a salesperson as somebody can be. Very, very loving, kind, smart and not necessarily somebody that will push people to making decisions, that is super in the way he walks in a room and just tells people and demands they give him their money and get on their knees and pray in front of the guy of whatever sales people do if you think. Not that at all! And it took him a while to figure out how to become very, very effective in sales. And I wanna teach you what he learned because I think everybody needs to learn that, no matter what you’re doing.
So in sales, there’s different frameworks that we think and when we think about who is a good sales person or who is good at sales? There’s this – this is an old framework from some psychological study, I haven’t done my homework too much but I love this framework because it’s very tactical and practical and you can put – if you wanted to put people in boxes, you can use 4 boxes for them to do that. You can say some people are unfriendly and strong, some are friendly and strong, some are unfriendly and weak and some are unfriendly and strong. Now, if we think about the typical wolf of wallstreet, hard charging New York type, aggressive sales person, we think of someone who is unfriendly and strong. Unfriendly means this person’s out there to get you and get your money, to kill the competition, they’re to dominate and using these very aggressive language internally and externally and they really are a 0 song gain that they’re paying. They want to go and get your money and get it in their pockets, that’s all they care about.
Unfortunately these people are sometimes very successful because they are strong and they go and they push people into submission. And it feels horrible when you meet a person like that and they do that to you, that’s why we hate these people! Frightfully! And that’s why most of us think of sales people as people we would try to avoid at all cost, rightfully so! But I believe that this is a model that used to work and it’s working less and less and eventually hopefully it’s gonna work never! [baby noise] Now I miss my kids even more.
So that model I think works in some industries, especially when you’re able to just rob somebody and go and then rob somebody else and nobody talks to nobody. Your customers and potential markets are not talking to each other and there’s a never ending demand of these customers that you could go and rob and you go into a new market. They might work that way, although I can’t imagine any kind of quality of life when you’re in that type of business. But that will work less and less as the world gets more connected, as we talk more and there’s more industries relying on customers coming back and spending more money with you versus just one time.
But if you’re in the software business, especially with us during the software business, you cannot afford to push people into buying because they’re gonna cancel tomorrow. An adjourned customer is not – if you got a 1 month payment and the next month it cancels, you haven’t made any money, you lost an insane amount of money! You lost money and having to on-board, support them and it takes a few months of whatever, advertising with the budget you paid with commission and marketing to acquire that customer. You lost money because they went and gave you bad reviews somewhere online, they tweeted badly about you, you lost money because of morale! You know how painful it is when the team says yeah we got this new customer, it cancels and say we’re the worst human beings on the planet? You hear that over and over and it will affect your team, your culture. The great people will leave and as massive amounts of cost to sell to bad customers, customers that should never buy your product so I don’t think that it really works in the future.
If you’re looking at the opposite, we’re looking at friendly and weak people and these are amazing human beings and should be the most successful humans on the planet. Unfortunately, they’re not! Crazily and emotionally, we usually take advantage of these people even if we don’t want to. These are people that walk around – they are walking, talking and apologizing machines. Whatever. My English Greek German whatever. So they’re just favourite on favourite arts teacher in 3rd grade that’s always apologetic that they exist. Sorry about this and that and hesitant and doubtful. We could do this, but I really don’t know. And just because of inter-human dynamics we feel like pray I need to kill this person. So we will take advantage of that person and we will push them around and actually we can’t stay too long around these people and it breaks my hearts but it’s just reality. Unfriendly and weak people aren’t attractive to most average humans! So that’s never gonna work. You wanna sell or move the world to do anything.
So the model I want everybody to think in and I think in when I think about great sales is frankly strength. Friendly strength means I want the world to be a better place and my customers to succeed and I want to be able to be amazing, successful and happy! I want my customers to win! But I come at it and I interact with them from a place of strength.
Now one of the best examples to exemplify that frankly strength is a good parent. So for those of you that have children, you know that sometimes, especially late at night and if they’re a little tired or hungry, they might get out of control. They might not be in control with what they’re doing or what they’re telling you. Sometimes you walk into a room and they run around and scream and throw things around and you tell them please not to do that and the friendly and weak you are, the more insane they go and throw more things at you and maybe you tell them to stop and they tell you they hate you or they say something really hurtful if they’re older and at that point as a parent you don’t lose your mind and get involved and sucked into their reality, you don’t start screaming back to them saying no, I hate you more! Don’t you know what I’ve done for you? The sacrifices that I had to make for you to turn 5? You know? When my son was 4 months old, I was walking around with him every single night, one moment it dawned on me and I was like I have to call my mom and thank her for not killing me! [laughter] And the next week I was giving a talk and there was a call to action and something I wanted everybody to do and I changed it into call your parents and tell them thank you right now! After this conference.
So you don’t start screaming at them. Here’s what a good parent does. Someone who is lovingly strong, you realise that they are out of control and are little children and you tell in my case my son, he’s like I hate you dad.. here’s what’s gonna happen, I’m gonna put you in your pyjamas, read you a bed time story and you’re going to sleep. No! I picked them and he still screamed. All right, he takes off his pants and shoes and the just submits and goes like whatever. This guy seems to know what he’s doing. And then we sit down and read the story and goes to sleep and I walk out. And there’s no negotiation, I don’t ask him would you mind going to sleep now that you told me you hate me? There’s none of that going on. I’m strong and I’m telling you what we’re going to do right now and I’m not waiting for you to agree, I’m executing on this. But I come from a friend who says I love this kid, right? So this is the way you need to sell if you really wanna be successful.
You could use other examples like a good doctor or a lawyer, somebody that’s an expert. If you are working within whatever industry you’re working and doing, it’s very likely that you know a ton more about your product and even the industry or category of software that you’re in than the casual buyer that comes to approach you. You’ve spent the last few years becoming an expert, you live and breathe this thing, 8-10 hours a day, they make up their minds once a year maybe and spend 3 hours maybe over a weekend to make a buying decision. They’re not as knowledgeable in this as you are so it’s your job to figure out what’s good for them or not. And when you know what’s good for them, it’s your job to tell them what to do to get the return or value. Not ask them or plead with them, you tell them! And we crave nothing more as humans than certainty. It’s such a beautiful, powerful thing when somebody is more certain than us, it comforts us to no end and we will just wanna follow that person because we don’t know this 150 years and I did research on it, all that data and facts how will I make up my mind what’s best? Once I make up my mind that someone has my best interests in mind, they spend a ton to figure out what’s good for me. If that person tells me what and how to do it, I find comfort and usually I will follow that advice. So friendly strength is the way you want to think about doing sales.
All right, I tried my best here. Just don’t read it and look at this handsome man. This is another person that’s not a natural born sales person. He looks a bit more like it, but he’s also a computer science graduate, he’s a developer and became a founder – Europe is a counter example and he was the VP of marketing at a start-up in Europe in Switzerland that they sold for tens and tens of millions of euros. Tons of money! He’s a very good friend of mine, Flavio. And his whole life he’s been a coder and then later in life being a marketer and he came to a conference just like this where I spoke about sales and at the end of the conference he was like dude, I need to learn more! I never thought I should know anything about sales, but it seems like this is a real valuable thing, you’ve been screaming at people that it is for the last 40 minutes. So maybe I should do an internship with you for 30 days or something.
And that’s what he did, he was the most overqualified junior intern ever! In the history of Silicon Valley, he’s a dude that sold a company for 70 million euros a few months prior and then comes to be an intern at my company in sales. No ego involved, that’s why he’s awesome! And he showed up, and I thought he’d be instantly good because he is a very smart guy. And the first few calls you know when you make a mistake but you don’t want to allow yourself to show it? The first few calls I’ve heard him calling incoming leads for us, then he signed up for a trial, he was calling them to welcome them, figure out what they want, how they heard about us, what they’re trying to get out of the trial and it’s supporting them in that. That’s our model, the way we sell. And the first few calls he made I was like I got instant panic attack. Like he was on the call and I was like oh my god! What did I do? I’m gonna get out of business and in about a week or 2 if I allow this guy to keep calling my leads. He was horrible! Horrific! I was like ok, don’t show it, poker face, don’t show anything! Take deep breaths and just let him go and do calls and then don’t interrupt right now and then at lunch we’ll have a one on one talk with him and we’ll figure this situation out.
The power of now
He learned one really powerful thing that he applied very enthusiastically and that made him an insanely successful sales person that he is within 7 days he was killing it! So this is a picture of his 8th day at being a sales intern and here’s what he does, his whole mindset was you know, I don’t know exactly how to say everything I should say to them or manage all objections, but I understand software companies and I talk to lots of them when I call you about leads and I’m just gonna focus on figuring out what do they need to be successful and then I will force them to do that immediately, I will use the power of now. This is something a lot of people don’t utilise at all!
You’re on the phone with somebody and yet the phonecall, we should schedule another time to talk! Yes, we should! Cool! Let us both hang up right now and then I will send you an email and then you can ignore that email because your 4000 other emails to look at and then I will have to follow-up in 3 weeks from now we might have found that instead hey let’s find a time right now. Do you have your calendar in front of you? How about next Tuesday this time? No, this doesn’t work. What works? Maybe Thursday this time. Yeah that works for me, wait a second! Boom, invite sent! Do you see your calendar? Yes, I see it. Awesome! I’m excited! The power of now! Don’t let them get off the phone. You have their attention, their intention, they wanna follow and take action right now.
Why push one more thing on their to do list? It’s something that drives me crazy in company meetings as well. We sit down and talk about things we could discuss and decide in 5 minutes and we just say we should also figure out how we’re gonna do this! Yeah, let’s put this on the to do list. What else can we not do right now that we can talk about? Well we can also talk and we need a meeting about this other thing. How about just be more disciplined and be like what is that decision? Can we make it right now? We’re in the room anyways! Have pizza for the retreat or should we have pasta? I say pizza, we’re all in? Pizza it is what else can we decide right now? Let’s get things off our to do list. The worst meetings are the ones where at the end of it I’ve more to do than at the beginning. And you have more to do and people that were not in the meeting. For god’s sake!
All right, so there is no timer on here so as a speaker, I could go on for hours. I totally understand the living legend over there. So somebody needs to keep me in check because I don’t know how to pace myself. How much time do you have? Ok [laughter] so now that I have information I can safely ignore, I will try my best to stay within the range and a broad range of admittance I will give you that.
All right, so here is one brilliant thing he did in his 8th day at close.io. he calls somebody in the morning who had subscribed, he talks to them and figures out what to do and then he says well what is the next step we need to take? The guy goes I need to show this to my co-founder and he smartly goes ok is he there? No, he’s in another meeting. When will you meet him today? And he goes well at 2? Cool! Can I call you guys at 2 so any kind of question your co-founder has you’re not yet an expert in this, I will be on the phone call and I can help you both figure out if this is the right tool or not. He goes ok – so at 2 pm after lunch Flavio calls them and they have a million questions. This is a company that’s just about to launch and has a bunch of leads they need to get into the system and it’s the first week of starting a business and all of that. And Flavio after 40 minutes of answering questions and like really obscure questions as well, in 28 years once we’ve reached this – if we wanted to integrate your CRM with this other solution that doesn’t exist yet, how will the integration work? And eventually Flavio lost it and went all right, listen guys! There’s a reason we’re not called faround.io but close.io. If you want to get started calling emailing, closing new customers, moving your business forward, let’s get that done. If you just wanna waste time go to somebody else please! And they started laughing ok, you’re really good at this sales stuff. All right, we’re gonna get started. He’s like what’s the next step we have to make? Well we have to import the leads. Let’s do it right now! Well, we don’t have – we’re gonna do it tonight, no let’s do it right now! Ok, when tonight? At 7. Cool! I go have dinner with Flavio at 7, and he says I need to go back to the office to call these guys. It’s like 8 PM and I’m like dude, call them tomorrow, we don’t call people at 8PM. He said no they agreed at 7 I’m gonna call them.
I’m feeling pressure now, as the head of the business I should go back with this intern to the office and pretend I’m working for as long as he’s working, right? All right, I go back with him, we sit down, he looks at the system and said they still haven’t imported the leads and he calls them and says dudes, what’s wrong with you people? You know, we thought about importing the leads and then we figured out that if we import them, and there is this little mistake where we’re not sure about how to do it, we already wasted 1 day of your 14 day free trial and we don’t want to waste any free time so we thought we’d figure out how to do the import before. He’s like you guys just can’t help yourselves huh? You really – he’s like send me that file right now! And they’re like ok. they’re sending the file, they’re screen sharing now. He imports their leads, there’s an error message! It doesn’t work! History re-uploaded. Finds the custom fields and all the data structure and stuff for them, data is in there, everything is beautiful. He’s like ok let me show you the power of close.io. here’s the list of your 85 leads that you have. Here is what I’m gonna do in this search bar I will type in show me the leads, what happens he clicks on a lead and one thing we do automatically is importing a volume of communication in the timeline and so he clicks on a lead and there’s nothing and then boom, the entire email list if I ever had when the prospect shows up and they go that’s so cool! He’s like you think that’s cool? Let me show you what’s cool. He goes to that leads page and says let’s look at – show me all leads that I have contacted in the past 3 months with the last thing that happened is they opened the email and looked at it, but they didn’t reply to it and it’s been longer than 2 weeks ago. And he goes from 85 down to 23. And Flavio is like do you know what that means? And I hear those guys go yeah we need to call these 23 people. He’s like yes, tomorrow at 7am I will call you to get started calling them. And they are like all right, this is amazing!
And then Flavio does something I didn’t expect. I’m the sales guru but he’s like do you guys have your credit card ready? [laughter] and they’re like yeah. Well let’s put it in right now. And I see them put in the credit card it’s the first day of their free trial, they don’t have to upgrade. He didn’t say they have to, he just said are you ready to upgrade? They were like hell yeah! Let’s do it! He used both caring about them, but being the expert that helps them take action right now and he was not asking them, not pleading with them and saying if you don’t mind, it would be so polite of you to maybe – no. he was like are you guys crazy? Let’s get started! I want you to succeed in business! Here is what you need to do next, let’s do it right now!
You can’t sell if you’re not sold
So here is one thing thats tough to grasp but – a lot of engineering type people don’t like to sell because they don’t like to be sold to. A lot of times whatever the biggest objection is that you’re struggling with, it’s actually the one you give to the world. I will give you an example, if you never you try to pitch something if everybody tells you it’s too expensive, you’re like why are all these people telling me that it’s too expensive but I’m really struggle with managing their objections – it’s over budget and I don’t know why people are so cheap. My number 1 question is when was the last time you bought something expensive yourself? And the answer is always, I don’t like to buy expensive things. I’m like well if you don’t like to buy expensive things then you can’t sell expensive things. Usually, the objection we struggle most with is when we are in agreement with. And usually, the most powerful way to sell is to be sold yourself – that’s why a lot of times the founders, even if they’re not one of the best sales people are one of the most successful people because they are most bought into the idea of what they’re doing. So a way to be very effective in selling is being very sold yourself and if you’re struggling in any way in the sales process and cycle, ask yourself and step back and go maybe it’s not them and it’s me. Maybe the reason why I’m having such a difficult time with this is that I am secretly in agreeing with their objection. A lot of times I find that to be true, the things I struggle most with others are my own problems. That’s actually also the beautiful quote that says you can’t be criticizing somebody and be completely at peace with yourself at that moment. If you do that and you’re ever really angry about something, ask yourself am I ok with myself on this? This person on the team is really not working hard enough! Ask yourself do I currently believe I work hard enough? A lot of the time and I have to say no, the last few days I had been feeling a little bit conflicted because I’m not working as hard as I want to so I’m projecting and it’s not really them and it’s me more than anything else. So a way to be really effective in sales is being really effective in selling yourself first whatever it is you’re trying to sell.
I’m gonna be a little fast on this stuff and I know – what? Look at this! I will go very fast. So this is the most important stuff I had to say. Any questions? I will go back very quick and 2 things that are really important and for those of you that there were some slides I missed out on, I could have changed my life and it didn’t, don’t worry! There’s a talk that I gave last year where I had a lot more tactical stuff and there is a ton of content I created, about how to do sales if you send me an email, and you tell me what you care most about sales emails, up on sales compensation plans, how to hire and fire sales people, how to create a sales call, how to do a pitch, how to negotiate with enterprises? Whatever the hell it is you care about you send me an email and I guarantee I will send you some information about it and jump on the call with you and if you have any questions we’ll figure it out. Is that a good deal? [crowd saying yes].
Ok, so one really important question I want all to learn to ask and as early and often as possible is:
what is it going to take to get this deal done?
This is what I call the virtual close and this is how it goes, you present somebody what you do. If they’re truly interested, you go awesome! It looks like this could benefit, everything you told me makes me believe that we are a good solution for you. What would it take for you guys to become customers of our solution? And then whatever the answers they give you, you don’t just take that a run. They go well, the next step is for us to really internally discuss that. Cool! What’s gonna happen next? Let’s say you discussed it internally, what’s the next step? And then what you do is you follow up with them until you arrive at a virtual time in the future where they bought. So they go then we’ll come back and go on a conference call with you and we’ll ask you more questions. Awesome! Let’s see if that call goes well.
What typically happens next? Well next we would push this over to some more stakeholders and the legal and technical implementation department. All right, what is that process look like? You go through that with them and then are we in business then? Well no, then we’re not in business yet. You have to go through procurement. And at some point because we’re uncomfortable, most of us would just go ok cool, thanks and sounds like a great process – and all we have to do is this and this and then we insert this, then they are gonna buy. I don’t do that, I go ok, another procurement. Let’s say we get through it – what happens next? Bless you! Well next, you have to go through legal. Ok and then? Then you’re gonna have to talk to my grandma and she needs to read your palm. All right. And then? Are we in business? Well yeah, then we’re in business. Awesome! Now what I’ve done is I created a virtual roadmap of what it is going to take to close this deal? Beautifully I will see some red flags potentially, like you ask somebody this question what is gonna take for you guys to buy and they go I don’t know, and you go how do you not know? When was the last time you bought something like this? And they go never, I’m an intern and this is my first day here. Or they might go well you know we’ve never really bought software, it’s an important fact to know. Or if they describe their buying cycle you realise it’s 12 years! And you might decide to not pursue this because your product costs $12. All right? Whatever it is, or you might realise you could parallelise processes, we have to talk to 4 departments? Why do it sequentially? Why not do it in parallel? That’s my number one advice on the question how can I shorter the sales cycle? Parallelize processes – we’re gonna make the investment to talk about legal and procurement in parallel we’re doing a pilot with you. If it works, we can get right into production! We’re not gonna be slowed down by them. If he doesn’t go through the pilot and isn’t a success it’s our investment that we made gladly and we just lost it. No harm for you!
What is it going to take for you to buy is a very powerful question and if you follow up until you arrive at a virtual time when they bought, you know everything you need to have a realistic expectation what is it going to take to make this thing happen?
All right, so I will end with this because this is the highest piece of advice I give – measured by the amount of emails I get every day and the dollar amounts people put in that email of what that advice brought them. Showing up is really important, sending the email, making the call, the presentation, coming to the conference. But even more important is following up and through and this is where nobody competes with you and where everybody drops the ball. You’re in a race of one. Nobody follows up and through as religiously as they should and the reason we don’t do it is because we feel insecure and we feel rejected when we don’t hear back. So if you meet with somebody, if I meet with you and we have a good meeting and you show interest in my product and then I send you an email and I don’t hear back from you, I will follow up indefinitely until I hear back from you. That means forever [laughter] forever! Again, yes is good, no is good, maybe is not. And I don’t do that when I send you a cold email, I don’t have the permission to forever follow up but if we had a meeting or call and you showed interest and said yes, I want to take the next step, it is my responsibility to bring this to some kind of a decision and when you don’t respond to me, most people in their mind is he’s not responding which means he’s rejecting me or I am annoying to this person. I don’t have that.
Here’s what I think. I think this person has a life, and is busy. Maybe he got sick, he has family issues or got fired. Something happened! Just because I don’t get a reply doesn’t mean I’m rejected! And at any point this person can just reply and tell me please stop sending me emails. I have many stories, one of the most famous one is how we got a brilliant investor in our company after 48 follow up emails. 48! And his reply was thanking you so much for your follow up and we had a crisis and had to leave. I’m back to the office, can you make it at 1PM? 48. Again, I have a ton of content on how to do the follow-up effectively but I guarantee that if you take the amount of follow-up emails that you send today or the ones you make today and you triple it, you just triple it and don’t do what I do which is forever – infinite follow up. You just do 3 times more than what you do today we made the world a better place. We are publishing a book very soon, it’s just gonna be case studies of people that have closed multi-million dollar deals that have raised tens of millions and have gotten press instead of hiring some senior executive just by following this advice. They all send us emails going Stelli, thank you so much for this piece of advice, here’s what we were able to accomplish today by simply following up a few more times than we were comfortable with. It’s a magical thing, I’m sick of talking about it by the way. Cause I will talk about it so much and recently I was at a conference and I was telling somebody there that I will stop teaching this and she was like you know what? All the other stuff you talk about is amazing but still follow-up stuff is changing lives. Never stop talking about it! So that’s what I do!
So I’ve a bunch of books about this! If you send me an email, you get a free copy and for more information about sales and if you have any kind of questions in general just shoot me an email and we’ll figure this sales thing out for all of us to make the world a better place. Thank you so much!
Learn how great companies are run
At BoS we run events and publish content that is highly valued by anyone trying to build, run, and scale a great software company.
Sign up for a regular dose of actionable and useful content: